Well, well, well. You didn’t think I was going to forget about you here in the final week of football did you? While most of you have seen your fantasy football seasons come and go, there are still some of you who need this final week to complete your season. With that, we’re going to take a look at each of the games as we do every week. However, due to personal time constraints, I’m going to keep this final session a little more abbreviated than usual. Not to worry though, I’ll hit the main points that you should be concentrating on for each game. If you still have something to play for, then I wish you the best of luck. If not, well then I hope you’ve at least enjoyed the ride…
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Atlanta Falcons
With the Falcons have absolutely nothing to play for, you need to be concerned if you’ve been relying on players like Matt Ryan, Roddy White, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez. They may suit up for the first quarter, but if they play beyond that, I’d be very surprised. Most Falcons starters should be taking it fairly easy this week. That bodes well for your Bucs though, so expect to see Josh Freeman airing it out to Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams throughout the day. With the Falcon’s run defense being spotty as is, ranking 20th in the league, you can bet Doug Martin will be looking to pad his final stats with one more big game.
New York Jets at Buffalo Bills
Even with Mark Sanchez back under center this week, the only Jets worthy of a start in any fantasy league are Shonn Greene and the defense. The Bills run defense ranks dead last in the league, so while Greene’s yardage hasn’t been so hot the last few weeks, he’s still getting goal-line work which helps. The Jets pass defense is obviously their strength, but you can still expect Ryan Fitzpatrick and Steve Johnson to test them often. C.J. Spiller gets almost all the carries these days, so against the Jets’ 27th ranked run D, I’d be using him this week.
Jacksonville Jaguars at Tennessee Titans
Defensive sketchiness in this one, so I’d expect some decent scoring. Both Chris Johnson and Montell Owens should fare well as the featured running backs in this contest and both Chad Henne and Jake Locker make for good replacement picks if your usual QB is either hurt or being rested. No Cecil Shorts, so Justin Blackmon is the featured receiver for the Jags while Nate Washington and Kenny Britt should both make for solid plays this week. Both teams do a surprisingly decent job against the tight end, so neither Marcedes Lewis nor Taylor Thompson are on my recommended list.
I’d like to take a quick moment here to tell the Jaguars to go %#^! themselves here. Now is when you put Maurice Jones-Drew on IR? You’ve got to be kidding me. You didn’t have anything to play for weeks ago and you kept stringing fantasy owners along. Bench spots completely wasted all season long. Thanks for nothing, Jacksonville.
Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers
There doesn’t seem to be much appeal to this game lately as neither team has anything to play for and most of the top guys are going to be out or hurting. Thad Lewis (who?) is supposed to be under center for the Browns and Trent Richardson, whose ankle has been slowing him down lately, is likely to be out. Even with a banged up Steelers secondary, I do not trust the Browns receivers this week. On the other side, both Heath Miller and Mike Wallace will be out which leaves Ben Roethlisberger, Jonathan Dwyer and Antonio Brown as the only real usable players this week. Leonard Pope, the new starting tight end could make for a decent sleeper this week as the Browns rank 19th against opposing tight ends this year.
Philadelphia Eagles at New York Giants
This one should be an important one to watch as the Giants desperately need a win to keep their playoff hopes alive. The Eagles may not give up huge yardage overall, but they’ve allowed 28 passing TDs to just eight interceptions and their 29 sacks this year are pretty low rated which means the pass rush ain’t so hot. Consider Eli Manning, Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks and Martellus Bennett all must-starts. Ahmand Bradshaw is listed as probable this week, so look for him to be leaned on with David Wilson going back to limited carries and return duty. For the Eagles, Michael Vick makes his return to the field and given the condition of the Giants secondary these days, you have to consider him and Jeremy Maclin must-starts as well. LeSean McCoy remains in the backfield this week so keep him active as well.
Carolina Panthers at New Orleans Saints
Neither team has anything to play for, but these two division rivals should duke it out this week with a splash of pride on the line. The Panthers pass defense has been tight all year, but that shouldn’t deter you from using Drew Brees and all the weapons at his disposal. Pierre Thomas will miss this one, so look for Mark Ingram to get leaned on a bit more than usual. For the Panthers, you’ve got to love the match-up for Cam Newton. He should rack up both rushing and passing yards big time in this one which means that Steve Smith and even Brandon LaFell should be very useful this week. The Saints do rank eighth in the league against opposing tight ends, so this might be a tough one for Greg Olsen. I do like DeAngelo Williams as a sleeper this week, so if you’re in need of a running back, give him a try.
Houston Texans at Indianapolis Colts
A bit of a tough one here as the Colts have nothing to play for this week. They can’t improve nor can they worsen their playoff seeding, but with such a young team, how much sitting are they going to do? Colts coach Chuck Pagano says that he wants to win this one and wants to play his starters, but with Andrew Luck still nursing a sore knee, the risk might be too great. I’d say Luck, Reggie Wayne and the rest of the gang are good for a half and then likely to sit the rest of the way. The Texans, on the other hand, are still looking to lock up home-field advantage after crapping it up lately. You can expect to see Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson to get their usual work in and word on the street has Arian Foster starting after an irregular heartbeat scare last week.
Chicago Bears at Detroit Lions
The Bears still have a slim chance to make the playoffs, the Lions do not. Expect this one to be like a regular game though as nothing would make the Lions happier than to play spoiler against their division rivals. The Bears continue to be predictable as you know it’s all about getting the ball into Brandon Marshall’s hands, so if you’re competing this week and are a Marshall owner, you’re psyched. Matt Forte’s ankle seems to be fine so he’ll lead the charge out of the backfield. For the Lions, it’s all about Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson. He already owns the single-season receiving record and is now just 108 yards away from being the first ever 2,000-yard receiver in NFL history. The Bears pass D has softened a bit over these last few weeks, so expect Megatron to have another big day.
Baltimore Ravens at Cincinnati Bengals
Chalk this one up as another possible half-game for most of the starters as both teams should be resting their players for next week’s first round of the playoffs. The Bengals are locked into their seed and while the Ravens could move into the number three seed with a win and a Pats loss, they are out of contention for a first-round bye which means moving up a seed does very little unless they reach the AFC championship game and someone gets upset in the second round. Given injuries and what not, you should probably expect to see the top players get about half the game in and not much more beyond that. Bengals coach Marvin Lewis has said otherwise, but it still seems risky.
Miami Dolphins at New England Patriots
The Pats can clinch a bye week with a win and either a loss by the Texans or the Broncos. The problem is that the Texans play early against a Colts team that doesn’t have much incentive and the Broncos play the Chiefs, a team in obvious disarray. If the Texans win, you can bet the Pats will be looking at the scoreboard often and if Denver is up big, you can probably expect guys like Tom Brady, Aaron Hernandez and even Wes Welker to get a breather. That doesn’t help you as a fantasy owner though, does it? My guess is that the Pats will go all out against the Dolphins lousy pass defense which means you should be able to get solid points out of your starters even if they play just the first half. For the Fins, it’s Reggie Bush and Brian Hartline and maaaaybe Anthony Fasano. Other than that, I don’t see much else for fantasy purposes.
Green Bay Packers at Minnesota Vikings
There’s plenty to play for in this one as the Packers can clinch a first round bye with a win and the Vikings are in a “win and you’re in” situation themselves. Aaron Rodgers has all his weapons available in this one as Jordy Nelson is ready to return. He’ll be joining the rest of the receivers against a struggling pass defense that has allowed 24 passing TDs to just 10 interceptions this year. Their pass rush is strong and the Pack o-line is struggling, but with so many targets to choose from, Rodgers shouldn’t have much trouble. For the Vikings, Adrian Peterson is just 208 yards away from breaking Eric Dickerson’s single-season record, so you can expect to see plenty of him, especially after torching them for 210 yards and one touchdown just a few weeks ago. From there, the passing game should open up, but in all honesty, the only guy I’m trusting to use is Kyle Rudolph. He should be good for double-digit yardage and a trip to the endzone.
Arizona Cardinals at San Francisco 49ers
Not that I want to get you excited about the Cardinals here, but the 49ers defense has been struggling these last three weeks with Justin Smith banged up. They’ve allowed a minimum of 94 rushing yards in each of the last three games, including 176 last week, and they’ve given up 76 points in their last two. Beanie Wells is no great shakes, but if you’re in need of a running back, he’s going to try to impress this week. You’ve also got Brian Hoyer starting under center for the Cards and he’ll be looking to connect with Larry Fitzgerald and Andre Roberts as much as possible as this is, more or less, an audition for him for next year. For the Niners, they need a win to lock up the division and are still in the hunt for a bye week, so expect the full squad to go all out. Vernon Davis is likely to sit with a concussion which makes Delaine Walker a real nice sleeper this week. He’s got six catches for 88 yards and two TDs over his last two games and the Cardinals rank 18th in the league against opposing tight ends.
Oakland Raiders at San Diego Chargers
More auditioning here as Terelle Pryor will get the start for the Raiders and that could mean some big things in the future and for this week. If you’re in need of a QB, then he’s probably worth a shot against a Chargers team that has all but given up on the year. Pryor should notch some decent rushing yardage and will be looking to hook up with Denarius Moore and Darius Heyward-Bey as much as possible. Consider Derek Hagan a sleeper as the two have a nice rapport from practices. Darren McFadden remains a must-start. For the Chargers, the running game will remain a committee although Ronnie Brown should see the most work. Danario Alexander is the only receiver worth his salt on that team nowadays but considering the Raiders rank 25th in the league against opposing tight ends, Antonio Gates should not be forgotten.
Kansas City Chiefs at Denver Broncos
The only way you see the Chiefs doing anything positive is if Denver is up huge in the first half and remove their starters the rest of the way. But with a bye week on the line, as well as home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, you can bet that Peyton Manning will be the field general he always is and that his soldiers will all have strong games. They play the same time as the Pats, so no one is resting early. Start your Broncos with confidence. For the Chiefs, you may as well start Jamaal Charles as he could pick up some killer yardage during garbage time. Outside of maybe Dexter McCluster and him, I don’t see anyone else you’ll want to use this week.
St. Louis Rams at Seattle Seahawks
The Seahawks, believe it or not, are not only still in the hunt for the division, but could actually still earn a first round bye with a win, a 49ers loss and a Packers loss. A longshot, yes, but with the intensity level at which this team is playing, they’re sure to do their part. Start your Seahawks with confidence. The Rams will try to put up a good showing, but it’s going to be a long, tough road for them against this defense. Steven Jackson is obviously worth the play and Lance Kendricks might be a decent sleeper, but it could be a rough one for Sam Bradford and the receivers.
Dallas Cowboys at Washington Redskins
The Sunday night game is the big one of the weekend as there are crazy playoff ramifications as the NFC East is still wide open. Bottom line is that both of these teams need a win to make the playoffs. The loser will most likely be sent home for the rest of the winter. If you have players here that you’ve been using throughout the year, start them with confidence. Both quarterbacks, both lead running backs, all the top wideouts, Jason Witten at tight end and yes, even Logan Paulsen for the Skins as the Cowboys rank dead last against opposing tight ends these days. Not only will this one be a battle, but I’m betting that it will be fairly high scoring as well.
Good luck to you all this week!
Howard Bender has been covering fantasy sports for over a decade on a variety of web sites. For questions, thoughts or comments you can find him on Twitter at @rotobuzzguy or you can email him at email@example.com.